Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Kenneth Sherwood, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Dr. Mike Sell, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dr. Thomas Slater, Ph.D.


This study argues that Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings’s artistic output at and founding of the Cabaret Voltaire and subsequently Dadaism, despite their ephemeral and sometimes tenuous official involvement with the movement caused by exhaustion, poverty, and petty-infighting, was spurred by their intertwined spiritual quests. In order to do so, the ways in which Hugo Ball and Emmy Henings’s spiritual exploration and fervent belief in the centripetal role of spiritual experience in all forms of artistic creation are highlighted and analyzed. This focus on spirituality is necessary, as it served as impetus and drive for their continued philosophical and creative efforts, even in the depths of poverty, drug abuse, and isolation. This study hopes to show that, contrary to much prevailing Dada scholarship which analyzes Zurich Dada as a nihilistic and inherently anti-spiritual movement, Hugo Ball and Emmy Henngings’s roles as founders, key “philosophers,” and artist wranglers of Dada, proves that the very foundation and life-force of Dada was a strange, anti-rational conglomeration of diverse and sometimes opposing mystical beliefs. Particularly, this essay will attempt to answer the question of whether the deliberate blind-spot that one finds in much avant-garde scholarship to the religious and spiritual tendencies that Ball and Hennings brought to the stage at the Cabaret Voltaire caused us to lose something essential in our understanding of Zürich Dada.